Do you know that yeast and mold are actually types of fungi?
Fungi can be found in almost any environment, indoors or outdoors, and growth is stimulated by warm and humid conditions. There are many different types of fungi, some more toxic than others. Even though most molds are hazardous to humans, they serve an important role in nature. Molds help break down dead material found in soil, foods, plants and other items while some yeasts can help with baking.
Even though molds are generally bad for us, there are a few ways to use mold to our benefit. The blue-green spots on the blue cheese pictured above is mold. Believe it or not, the mold is supposed to be there. Penicillium mold is injected into blue cheese during its production to give it its unique flavor and as a side affect, an unusual stench. Penicillium mold is a blue-green mold that is commonly found on moldy bread. This mold was the first to be found to contain an antibiotic (penicillin).
Antibiotics are agents that kill bacteria. In 1928 bacteriologist Alexander Flemming discovered that penicillium mold actually killed some species of bacteria. A few years after Alexander Flemming's discovery penicillium was being marketed as penicillin, a common anti-bacterial drug that has helped save many people's lives. Most other antibiotics used by physicians were discovered from other species of mold. Can you guess why it is so common for fungi to produce antibiotics? Think about their survival in nature and what they compete with for nutrient sources.
Yeast is very important in the area of baking. Yeast is added when making almost any bakery product to make it rise. Without yeast our bread, cakes, muffins, biscuits and other bakery products would be solid heavy slabs. (Yeast is also used in the production of beer and whiskey).
The delicious fungi, mushrooms, are a part of many people's diets. Only certain types of mushrooms are edible and some people don't find them quite as tasty as others.